Another side indeed…
By 1964 it was becoming increasingly clear that Bob Dylan was getting restless, tired of playing to the same old folk scene month after month, year after year. Although still all acoustic, on Another Side of Bob Dylan, this “prophet, mystic poet” succeeded in writing a collection of songs that would be mined by other artists again and again, most notably The Byrds, whose own folk-rock innovations Dylan himself must have surely been aware of.
It was on this album that Bob began the switch from soapbox social commentator to writing lyrics that were far more personal in nature, especially “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “I Don’t Believe In You”, while others such as “Chimes of Freedom” and “My Back Pages” are fraught with enigmatic imagery, a quality he would continue to explore and perfect in the years to come.
Fans of The Byrds’ version of “All I Really Want To Do”, with all those incandescent harmonies, might find the original somewhat disappointing. But the more one listens, the more one hears, as if Dylan is looking beyond the song. Bored with being pigeon-holed as a protest singer, Dylan chose to write something almost bordering on pop. “Black Crow Blues” is Dylan’s stab at a genre he obviously hasn’t spent too much time learning how to master. However there are moments here and there where one can hear the sorts of vocal phrasing found on later albums.
Recorded late at night after a couple of bottles of wine, “Spanish Harlem Incident” certainly has that feel to it. Just Bob and his harmonica, full of lustful lyrics about a gypsy dancer he just can’t seem to take his eyes off. On “Chimes of Freedom” Dylan gets caught in the rain, seeks shelter in a doorway, while watching an electrical storm take place above him. Arthur Rimbaud, the 19th Century French Poet, who’s overindulgence of drink and drugs would lead to an early demise, had become a major influence on Dylan at this time, employing the use of symbolism in his work as a way of adding multiple layers of meaning.
The talking blues of “I Shall Be Free No. 10” is juxtaposed with the Spanish flavoured “To Ramona”, a love song about a relationship that was doomed to fail before it even had a chance to succeed. Dylan parodies Alfred Hitchcock on “Motorpsycho Nitemare”, including a few nods to the Cold War between the US and Russia. Along with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and McCarthyism during the ‘50s, freedom of speech and paranoia were still at odds with one another.
On “My Back Pages” Dylan succeeds in killing off his previous persona and loosening himself from those shackles which he felt were beginning to hold him back. Like his other song “Maggie’s Farm”, it could be interpreted as a sort of middle finger to the highly political folk cognoscenti, who saw him as a sort of “high priest of protest”. Dylan explores the complexities of a relationship on “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)”, and when he sings “Though we kissed through the wild blazing nighttime/She said she would never forget/But now mornin’s clear/It’s like I ain’t here/She just acts like we never have met”, it’s clear the narrator doesn’t understand what he might have done wrong or didn’t do right.
On the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the woman walking with Dylan was Suze Rotolo, and when they broke up soon after, “Ballad In Plain D” was the bitter response (how lucky was she?). The song is basically an eight minute diatribe of how the whole relationship came to an end. Nor does he mince his words as to Rotolo’s mother and sister.
The LP concludes with “It Ain’t Me Babe”, a tune that would go on to influence Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe”. And while the latter was merely an endearing pop tune, the former was little more on the acerbic side of life, where Dylan appears to be employing a woman’s expectations as a rather undiplomatic metaphor for anyone expecting him to be the new folk Messiah, someone who has all the answers to their questions.
For many Folkies, the lack of any real protest songs was a problem, and this was before Dylan went electric. But more progressive musical minds heard otherwise, making him one of the most coveted of songwriters throughout the mid to late ‘60s. Sure, Bob’s voice has a basic, nasally timbre to it, and a guitar technique most music teachers would simply shudder at. However one cannot deny the feeling of this record, nor the humanity, which easily outweigh any musical shortcomings. This is story telling at its rawest, and deepest. On Another Side To Bob Dylan, Dylan began to create a whole new language, one that would alter the landscape of popular music forever.